The following categories are covered in this section:
Argentine Tango Basics Tango Teachers
Is Argentine Tango the Same as Ballroom Tango? Taking Private Lessons
Attending Tango Classes Dancing at a Milonga as a Beginner
Do I Need a Partner? Argentine Tango Terminology
Practice, Practice, Practice Dance Etiquette
Argentine Tango Basics
Argentine tango is based on the four building blocks of walking, turning, stopping and embellishments. The dance is like a puzzle that gets put together differently each time. Women and men bring their own styles and embellishments to the dance which contribute significantly to the excitement and unpredictability of the experience. Even though dancers follow certain conventions, they never quite know how someone will construct a dance, add an embellishment or interpret the music. The surprises possible within the dance are what make the dance so addicting. It really does take two to tango, because the dance isn't just about the man leading and the woman following. Both partners have important things to contribute—like all good conversations. There are 30 basic elements to this dance and I encourage everyone to learn them before starting your pattern work. Even though it is said that there are no patterns in tango you will be taught patterns.
Is Argentine Tango the Same as Ballroom Tango?
No. They started out from the same roots, but location, time and the ever evolving nature of dance have made them separate dances. The American and International ballroom tangos you may see on PBS, are very different from the tango danced socially in Argentina. Argentine tango is different from the ballroom tangos in its posture, embrace, improvisation, movement, balance, steps, and music. It's completely different from the top of your head to the bottom of the soles of the shoes you dance it with.
If you have a background in ballroom tango, just think of Argentine tango as a completely new dance—not as an enhancement of the one you already know. Although many concepts will overlap.
Attending Tango Classes
When you're a beginning tango student, attending a class is the best way to get your bearings in the dance. Sign up and attend regularly. Every good dancer I know is good because they signed up for the first series of classes and attended all of them. Learning to dance tango is a wonderful commitment you make for yourself and consistency is as important to achieving this goal as it is for all others in your life. Signing up and coming to one class a month here and there will just be frustrating for you.
A good tango class should introduce you to the following elements of tango: walking, turning, stopping, navigation, musicality and some embellishments. Tango is a dance based on walking, so you must practice this essential element. The good news is that you already know how to walk, you just need to practice taking a partner with you. All great tango dancers work on their walk. Then you'll learn how to turn, how to stop momentarily on the floor, how to navigate a crowded floor, how to listen to and learn the various types of tango music and how to add your own signature to the dance in the form of embellishments. Tango is a dance you can create on the fly with another person. This is one of the most beautiful aspects of tango and is the one that makes the dance endlessly interesting.
Do I Need a Partner?
You do not need a partner to start learning to dance tango. There are always a variety of people taking classes and it's unusual for everyone to come with a partner. In my experience, more people come without a partner than with. If a class has a gender imbalance, a teacher can ask people to rotate so everyone has a chance to learn. Don't let the lack of a partner stand in the way of learning.
If you're lucky to live in a city with at least one tango instructor, try them out. They can be your first guides to the world of tango. Ask them about where they learned to tango and who taught them, where they dance tango. In addition to teaching classes, local teachers usually help arrange opportunities to dance tango socially. If your city has more than one instructor attend their practices and dances. See whose teaching and dancing style you like and whose method of instruction feels right for you.
In my experience, the best tango teachers are the ones who bring out the best in you rather than try to get you to conform to a particular style (which interestingly enough is usually theirs) and are able to separate Argentine tango from ballroom styles of tango. If you feel welcome in a class, chances are it's the right one for you. When taking instruction classroom or otherwise ask for permission to video the review and ask the instructors to vocalize the key points during the review. If you they do not do this for you look for another instructor. Giving a review without the key points is like you going to Youtube and copying patterns from there.
Taking Private Lessons
Private lessons from a local instructor is a great way to have someone evaluate and make recommendations about your own dancing. When an instructor can look at your dancing without having to look at 40 other people at the same time, you can really learn a tremendous amount. One hour of private instruction with a great dancer can save you many hours of frustration and help you avoid painful mistakes—both emotionally and physically.
Look around and see if there is a local instructor you'd like to schedule a private lesson with. You are paying for the privilege to take with that instructor. Start out with a local teacher ask for recommendations from his students what do they think about his private instruction. I give a complementary lesson to allow people to see how I teach and see if my teaching methodology is right for them. The manner I teach in a classroom is identical to the way I teach a private lesson although you get all the attention.
Talk to everyone you can about their recommendations regarding whether the teachers are appropriate for beginners, their style, etc. Tango dancers love to talk about tango, so don't hesitate to talk to dancers at your local milonga. Then set up a few private lessons spread out over a couple of days. Don't try to pack too much in one day—your brain needs times to understand and your muscles need time to assimilate new movements.
Practice, Practice, Practice
One of the most important aspects of learning tango is practicing on your own. If there are weekly practicas (practice dances) in your city, pick one or two or three and go. I've found that regular practice is the most important element in becoming a proficient tango dancer. It's also a good way to meet other people in the tango community who have more experience with the dance. They can be a great resource to answer questions.
Dancing at a Milonga as a Beginner
As a beginner, you'll either be eager to dance with everyone or hesitant to be seen as a beginner. If you're eager to dance, go for it. Just remember that tango is danced in lanes that keep moving and the more experienced dancers tend to stay toward the outside. If you're hesitant, I can guarantee you that everyone in the room has been a beginner at one time and understands how nerve wracking it can be to look around and see everyone gliding by when you only know three movements. Even someone who has been dancing for only two weeks longer than you have will look like they've been at it for years longer. I can't explain it; it always looks like that.
Argentine Tango Terminology
I have created a short list of Spanish words you need to know to learn this dance. View this list on the next tab FAQ under Levels of tango. A detailed description of these terms and additional vocabulary can be found in Ed Loomis’s “A guide to tango terminology” 13 July 2004 http//www.tejastango.com/terminology.html
I will only address a small amount of dance etiquette issues but a who list can be found on:
The biggest ones for me are don’t blame somebody for not following or leading properly just say thank you at the end of the some and excuse yourself
Walk your partner off the floor after the dance.